The memory of partition must become invalid now

Published: March 20, 2014

It was argued by many that the partition is still a collective memory and that while it may not always be used to inculcate hatred, it is high time we forget it.

During our Aman Chaupal initiative, where we invite a representative from Pakistan to interact with students in India, this time I got the opportunity to meet Mr Aamir Nawaz.

Nawaz is the president and artistic director of the MAAS Foundation, a leading theatre group of Pakistan which showcases plays on several social themes. One of their prominent themes is Indo-Pak issues.

As a part of the Aman Chaupal, we showed the video of one of MAAS’s plays to students of the South Asian University (SAU), which was followed by a discussion on the theme of the play. The play, named Permasher Singh, was based on the partition. Whether our grandparents had migrated or not, partition or the ‘memory’ of partition has been inculcated in all of us through history books and culture. However, it is sad that the ‘memory’ has only been used to sow hatred. Both the play and the discussion challenged the popular narrative of partition. It compelled us to think how we should perceive it today and what we need to do with the memory of partition.

The play portrayed the complexities, contradictions and the clash of communities and people’s conscience at the time of partition. It explored the different factors that led to people committing atrocities against the people of other communities – the idea of avenging the merciless killing and rape of one’s own kin and the suspicions that people across the border are mercilessly killing people of their community.

There was a wave of hatred and insanity and it was virtually impossible not to get swept by that flow. Anyone who tried to act in favour of humanity was considered insane. But despite this, there was a man named Permasher Singh, who rose above it all and saved the life of a Muslim boy named Akhtar. This boy reminded him of his own son named Kartar who was probably killed in the riots. Singh believed that all kids are the same and that they are all children of the same god. But as expected, the people of his community and his own kin had problems with his new affection for the boy. It was even suggested to him to convert the boy to Sikhism but he refused to do so. They developed a beautiful bond, similar to father and son, but then Singh decided to send him to Pakistan to his family. He took Akhtar to the border but when the Pakistani soldiers saw him, they shot him. The question posed at the end was:

“Whose child was Akhtar, India or Pakistan?”

And the play ended with,

“He was the child of humanity.”

The play was an attempt to challenge the official narrative on partition that exists on both sides. Partition was much more than just a political decision. It also challenged the beliefs, which people on both sides still hold on to. It did not only divide the land, it disrupted peace and social solidarities; it destroyed peoples’ conscience.

The play was meant to replace the hatred with this realisation of mutual insanity and inhumanity.

Owing to its nature, SAU, with its students from all South Asian Association Cooperation (SAARC) countries, brought perspectives from not only India but from Pakistan and Bangladesh as well to the discussion. It was argued by many that the partition is still a collective memory and that while it may not always be used to inculcate hatred, it is high time we forget it and move on.

A student from Pakistan said that we need to forget the past, accept that we are different and learn to respect each other. Professor Tripathi of International Relations, argued that,

 “A country is made of history, geography, politics and economy. We cannot change the history and geography but we can change the politics and economy. We need to take a decision whether we want an economy of prosperity or an economy of poverty. Till now, we only have an economy of poverty.”

We need to move on.

We cannot undo the past so let’s not live in it. There is no point in remembering those memories which only inflict pain. We need to live in the present and ensure that the madness is never repeated.

We need to live and work for our present and for this, as Nawaz rightly remarked,

 “The memory of partition needs to become invalid now.”

Both India and Pakistan need to focus on our present, wherein things are far from perfect, and for this the vision for development and equality is required, not bygone memories.

Devika.Mittal

Devika Mittal

Pursuing her M.phil in sociology from Delhi School of Economics. She is the convenor of Aaghaz-e-Dosti, an Indo-Pak friendship initiative. She Tweets @devikasmittal (twitter.com/devikasmittal)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Ajnabi Sheher

    I do not hate India and am willing to even love India if they can accept Pakistan on equality, justice and mutual respect basis :)Recommend

  • Hammad Mian

    Peace and Harmony can not be prevail between the two countries until you give the Kashmirs their Freedom Right. Such Discussion would be useless till then!Recommend

  • jee non

    Singh believed that all kids are the same and that they are all children of the same god……….. But u must know who teaching HATRED towards other religions in their school syllabusRecommend

  • Shahid

    Division of Indopak is one of the biggest tragedy in history. Even if it has happened the massacre and violence which immediately followed it made the enviornment so poisionus that the relationship beyween two countries never enjoyed fraternity. Now we need to develop our relationship on America- Canada model.Two countries but bounded togather in some sort of peace and coexistance treaty. with free trave.Recommend

  • Altaf Sharif

    That is akin to forgetting your parents because they are old!
    As teenagers/young adults we tend to drink from the well of idealism a lil too much. While it might sound harsh but such sentiments have no place in real politiks. History bears witness.Recommend

  • Mr Bajwa

    I strongly agree with your opinion to move on and forget past. Both countries should focus on improving lives of their citizen rather than destroying peoples of other country.

    “It did not only divide the land, it disrupted peace and social solidarities; it destroyed peoples’ conscience.”

    I am not agree with that opinion of you. Fact is that we were not living in peace even before partition. If We cannot live with peace in our separate homes, how can we live with peace within a same home?Recommend

  • fze

    Why is it perceived that every time the word “partition” is mentioned, minds are filled with hatred. My father took part in the movement and he would tell stories about it, but they never conjured an image of evil in my mind . Rather I started cherishing my country more. People who did it are alive no more and sins of fathers cannot be pinned on their sons. We Pakistanis have certainly moved on, may be Indians have yet to reconcile to the fact.Recommend

  • GS@Y

    *sigh* I appreciate the effort and support increasing cooperation and decreasing hostilities, but must, with all due respect, point out the amateurish approach to the role and importance or history and identity in this article. You don’t just “forget” and “move past” the impact and reconstruction of lived collective experiences.

    You have to learn to articulate identities differently, create material mutual interests, and better manipulate the hard barriers of geography to facilitate greater interaction. Actions which impact the environment structurally have a greater chance of success than mere moralizing.Recommend

  • G. Din

    While you are at it, you might as well make ban it under law and make it a criminal offence to REMEMBER “Partition” because it never happened. Talk about INANITY!!!!Recommend

  • Parvez

    IF ONLY it were that simple…………but its not. The good thing is that there are people, possibly a minority, on both sides who think like you but then positive thinking especially when its well intentioned has the power to move mountains.Recommend

  • South Asian

    I disagree. While mutual cooperation and peace is necessary, we must never forget our history. Partition is a part of our shared history, and we need to learn from it and cannot forget it the way that the Holocaust and any other atrocities cannot be forgotten.Recommend

  • Once upon a time

    Forgiveness is the one of the most desired acts in Islam. But does forgiveness lessens the pain? I can forgive those who killed my parents while they were migrating to Pakistan, but can I forget what I saw in that train?
    No is my answer! my dear writer.

    Do you know why history is taught in every part of world and to every race of the world? Because, one should learn the psyche of others. And I am sure that you know, that psyche of a race never changes even after a few thousand years.

    Therefore, my apologies that I don’t agree with your argument.Recommend

  • Santiago

    nice Devika. , keep up the good work. keep writing.Recommend

  • Xavier

    I also thought so, but who can explain the expulsion of kashmiri students on celebrating Pakistan win, are the people still not hard wired stereotyped to hate still on petty issues?Recommend

  • Anjaan

    Memories of partition will not go away easily … you will be reminded of the divide time and again, through more Pakistani terror attacks and massacres of innocent civilians on the streets of India … !!
    Wishful thinking is not the cure for this intense animosity … the cure lies in the hands of the British and the Americans, Pakistan’s masters and mentors …Recommend

  • virkaul

    There is a difference between what ought to be and what actually is. In one of the talk shows on Pakistani TV, noted journalist Ayyaz Amir rightly said that mistrust has increased with time the two countries have drifted apart with passage of time. He says that people if his age grew up listening to Rafi Lata songs, people could travel across with much less formalities, leaders of both countries would travel for discussion more often than now although wounds of partition were still fresh and Kashmir issue was still fresh. This is something very significant and must be debated with a bias if we wish to have peace and prosperity in the region. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma are different countries but their progress and prosperity is linked to each other. This needs to be understood.Recommend

  • abhi098

    Migrate to pakistan then. Recommend

  • baig

    i think that most of us will agree that the things should be on strictly equal basis which thanks to our government it is not. secondly i feel Kashmir is the big issue which should be solved. i really feel nothing worthwhile could be done unless this issue is solved. (2 wars have been fought between the two countries on this issue) thirdly it’s not about forgetting the past. thinking about the past never takes you anywhere but it is what you learn from it and not repeat those mistakes, that is worthwhile.Recommend

  • Mohsin

    Why is it that expressions of friendship and love pour out only when such an article is written on a forum and not in real life? Is it not quite obvious that most of these supportive commentators are only trying to impress the author. Recommend

  • mimi sur

    “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”
    ― Edmund Burke …In the eve of Shiv jayanti , I swear by Shivaji , I won’t forget my history . I won’t tolerate any culture which has its origin outside the country. And we won’t forget Partition.Recommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/shail.arora.589 Shail Arora

    I’ve read some of your older comments on different posts and actually have similar views as yours. Unfortunately, we’ll always find each other at opposite ends on this topic. Just out of curiosity, may I know what exactly is your loss vis-à-vis partition? Considering that you’ve been quite vocal about my sentiments.Recommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/shail.arora.589 Shail Arora

    For most of the Indians, it really means squat because they were not directly/indirectly affected by it. For them, it’s just the rhetorics that have been planted by politicians and media. At the same time, it’s ironical that the ones who were least affected by it are the most vocal.Recommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/shail.arora.589 Shail Arora

    Don’t listen to naysayers Devika, if you truly believe in this cause, keep up the good work.Recommend

  • IHateDisqus

    This is a persistent problem with those from Punjab who think they have a monopoly over Indo-Pak relations.

    I am here in the South and nobody here cares about the partition because we were not affected. On the other hand, we do care about the Mumbai attacks. What has Pakistan done to bring the perpetrators of that crime to justice?Recommend

  • Necromancer

    Indians need to change their attitude……just go on any Indian news paper website and anything related to Muslims or anything bad happens in world they start bashing Pakistan and not just our government or army all the citizens including children I have read comments as insane as doing genocide in Pakistan……and these or not just one or two comments but like thousands………so hatred is never the answerRecommend

  • Necromancer

    an example of Indian hate towards Pakistan……….do you see this author Indians our deluded in so much hate that they have forgotten what humanity is. and they don’t even respect children they or just a kind of Taliban Derivative just a little lazyRecommend

  • G. Din

    “For most of the Indians, it really means squat because they were not directly/indirectly affected by it.”
    Every Indian was directly or indirectly affected by it. That is why it is painful to see those who stumbled across the border then, all bloodied up and with barely a torn shirt on their backs, whom one welcomed then with open arms, and clasped in an unconditional embrace, now make common cause with those who had hounded and bloodied them. Ingratitude hurts! I will not talk about “my loss vis-a-vis Partition”; I did not do any favours.Recommend

  • G. Din

    If wars and disharmony do not affect you, it doesn’t affect us either who have snubbed you every time you tried both of those. You shall not be allowed to lay conditions for peace and harmony. Be reminded, Mian, India/Hindus measure Time in aeons (yugas).Recommend

  • G. Din

    If wars and disharmony do not affect you, it doesn’t affect us either who have snubbed you every time you tried both of those. You shall not be allowed to lay conditions for peace and harmony. Be reminded, Mian, India/Hindus measure Time in aeons (yugas).Recommend

  • G. Din

    For historical reasons, Punjabis have borne the brunt of Islamic invasions of India. They have unconsciously/subconsciously adopted some of the qualities/characteristics of those invaders, chief among those is bullying. Bullying is a latent cry for attention. It does not matter whether a Punjabi is from India or Pakistan, they always attempt to dominate (“have a monopoly over”) the environment. They have not been as successful in this in India as they have been in Pakistan, but as the saying goes “aadatan majboor” (force of habit).Recommend

  • G. Din

    For historical reasons, Punjabis have borne the brunt of Islamic invasions of India. They have unconsciously/subconsciously adopted some of the qualities/characteristics of those invaders, chief among those is bullying. Bullying is a latent cry for attention. It does not matter whether a Punjabi is from India or Pakistan, they always attempt to dominate (“have a monopoly over”) the environment. They have not been as successful in this in India as they have been in Pakistan, but as the saying goes “aadatan majboor” (force of habit).Recommend

  • TheAverageMoe

    you would love toRecommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/shail.arora.589 Shail Arora

    “Every Indian was directly or indirectly affected by it.” – How?

    “…now make common cause with those who had hounded and bloodied them.” – That was then, now is a different time. We don’t really live in past anymore. In another few generations, this would just fade away.

    “…Ingratitude hurts! I will not talk about “my loss vis-a-vis Partition”; I did not do any favours.” – But it doesn’t stop you from questioning others. Time for some introspection, sir!… no matter how late in the day.Recommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/shail.arora.589 Shail Arora

    “IHateDisqus: I am here in the South and nobody here cares about the partition because we were not affected…”, go on, tell him that every Indian was affected directly/indirectly…

    Let me add another one to the list, if it gives you any consolation – stubborn… and yes, agreed, this too has been a result of the behavior modification induced in our psyche due to invasions.Recommend

  • Malaika Harris

    This is kind of unrelated, but I think the funniest thing about the Zaid Hamid and Modi types in Pakistan and India is that if either had lived on the other side of the border, they’d completely reverse roles. I’m sure Zaid Hamid would be a Hindutva ideologue, and Modi would probably be a leading Jamaat-i-Islami candidate. It’s the same jingoist mentality.Recommend

  • abhi098

    you protect bin laden, hafeez saeed and expect any respect towards your country. How laughable. Respect is earned and pakistan doesnt deserve any atleast from my country. As a non religious person whose parents are hindus I worry everyday in my country of what muslims are going to bomb next. Recently even indian muslims are under the radar for going to syria and fighting for jihad.Recommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/shail.arora.589 Shail Arora

    We have our share of Pakistan haters, and realistically speaking, they are in majority.Recommend

  • G. Din

    ” In another few generations, this would just fade away.”
    Not, if they continue to send us their posses to cause mayhem in our metropolises (Remember 26/11?). Not, if they continue to remind us of their barbarism every now and then by beheading our boys and taking their heads as a trophy. Not, if they continue to nurture organizations who fantasize about unfurling their flags over our historical monuments as continuation of an interrupted 1000-year (?) Islamic rule. Yes, if a 20 foot tall and a 6 foot thick wall topped by electrified concertina wire throughout its length is built to separate our countries for there shall never be any peace between us as long as Pakistan is Islamic. But, you are welcome to join them in love fest at Wagah like Kuldip Nayyar did for a long time lighting candles. To what end? You are welcome to mount a campaign like Arundhati Roy faulting India. Both of them have receded into oblivion as is the fate of all such “peace-dreamers”.
    Do you understand now why I question all such ethereal talk about peace between India and Pakistan?Recommend

  • G. Din

    ” India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma are different countries but their progress and prosperity is linked to each other.”
    No, it is not. Those who want to build better lives for their citizens are welcome to join India in that pursuit. Others are welcome to go their own way. There is no dependency or linkage here in much the same manner as between US and all its neighours. They are not tied to India nor is India tied to them. That is evident, isn’t it, from the history of the last 66 years.Recommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/shail.arora.589 Shail Arora

    “To what end? ”
    In a hope that if/when peace returns, the region is restored to it’s former glory.

    “Both of them have receded into oblivion…”
    In time, don’t we all just wither away. How could my fate be any different.

    “Do you understand now why I question all such ethereal talk about peace between India and Pakistan?”
    It’s unfortunate that because of our politicians and state actors, we can not go beyond this.

    But I still don’t understand as to how undermining “normal” civilians on such forums helps the cause. The state officials or the fundamentalists who are actually responsible for all that you’ve specified above, don’t visit these sites.Recommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/shail.arora.589 Shail Arora

    Janaab, you are viewing this from a very narrow field of view. For instance, how do you suppose Kashmir can prosper without Pakistan & Indian states being on some common page? How can Tamil Nadu be at peace without India & Sri Lanka resolving the Tamil issue? What about Arunachal Pradesh (India/China dispute)?
    Or, you don’t consider Kashmir/Tamil Nadu/Arunachal Pradesh to be a part of India? Do you think that India can bulldoze it’s way to prosperity?
    US, if I’m not mistaken, has by and large, bulldozed it’s way when it came to it’s neighbors.Recommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/shail.arora.589 Shail Arora

    I don’t know about Zaid Hamid but Modi is a politician, this is what they do for a living.Recommend

  • nitish

    From where r you Shail Arora and what do you know about Partition?Recommend

  • hp kumar

    He is from south of India..And you need not to tell Indians about what part of India was actually affected during partition..Recommend

  • hp kumar

    You may like demolition of temple in larkana,frankly we r hurt by such an act.It is just a small incidence to ponder upon..A state who exists upon hate India,hate Hindu ideology cant be our friend..Recommend

  • https://www.facebook.com/shail.arora.589 Shail Arora

    It’s pointless, mate. I’ll just be reiterating, what I do, every other day.Recommend

  • hp kumar

    Now let me give you solution .”.For instance, how do you suppose Kashmir can prosper without Pakistan & Indian states being on some common page?”For Kashmir to prosper ,India and Pakistan need not be on common page.Article 370 has to be repealed .Kashmirs r wholeheartedly going to accept India as their motherland.

    “How can Tamil Nadu be at peace without India & Sri Lanka resolving the Tamil issue?”This is non-issue and native Indians r not affected by it.

    “What about Arunachal Pradesh (India/China dispute)?”china is going to accept McMohan line as international border.All the disputes have to be solved as per Simla accord..So from our part there is no dispute at all.Opposition party will have to accept our position..no if and but…Aur yeh bulldozer ki zarrorat nahi hai shail bhai..India is well marching towards prosperity and it will grow even more as modi comes to power.Recommend

  • hp kumar

    Its not pointless mate..You have just raised many eyebrows here when you said for Indians partition means mere a squat..For us Indians partition remains a sad reality..we read it ,we understand it..I would like even our future generation to understand it..Our neighbor who came into existence coz of partition still dreams to disintegrate India.Those who fail to learn form history is doomed to repeat itRecommend

  • Altaf

    Yet another attempt at impressing her rather than replying logically. I always have noticed you doing this with female authors/ commenters! Why?Recommend

  • Sid

    Good article Devika, u r in my list of optimistic people when it comes to India – Pakistan relationship. Saying that, I would comment that even people who did not face the brunt of partitions as punjabis and bengalis did got affected. The psychological trauma of human loss irrespective where it happened echoes deep in our conscience. Slowly we shifted our focus from criminals who did those crimes of killing raping and started to focus on what community they belonged to. That shift is causing the perpetual pain we all are in. I grew up in Mumbai and I felt the effect of partition when there was a bomb blast in Mumbai local. The blast was huge and tear open the steel compartment where it occurred and you can only imagine the horror of the people in that compartment. with anger and fear taht it could have been my family I questioned why ? what did we do ? And that question is legitimate. why would any common men bear the consequences of power player whom they don’t control. Common men in India and Pakistan are afraid of hawkish military, corrupt politicians and moreover religious goondas. They can only die in such blasts but unfortunately cant change unless they decide to come out of all the hard earned comfort they have build and fight for nation once again such as we did for independence.
    It is true that we should not be slave to memories of partitions. But those were just not memories but deep scare in our psyche even though we were not there when that happened. It will only take some divine intervention in form of common citizens will to overcome those memories and befriend each other. But as you can see from certain people who commented from both India and Pakistan, there is quite a lot of work to be done. But every work starts with first step, and I am happy to come across people like you who take those first step. Good luck and god bless.Recommend

  • someone

    It is funny to see Pakistani asking for Kashmir to be resolved. In my opinion , the responsibility lies with Pakistan and not India. India did not invade Kashmir. Kashmir joined India. Pakistan invaded Kashmir and since then has occupied part of it illegally. Pakistan should get its army out of Kashmir .Also, Whatever dispute is there, it is between India and one of its state. What Pakistan has to do anything with it ? It is like, Iran starts a trouble in Balochistan and then ask Pakistan to solve it. Do you know how stupid that sounds? Until some sanity prevails in Pakistan and Civilian government is stronger than Army and “establishment” , there can not be permanent peace. These demands of peace from Pakistan are coming because of these terrorism issues in Pakistan and Pakistan army don’t want to have two front open. They just want to buy time till insurgencies or terrorism is tackled in Pakistan after which they would resume their business of Kashmir again.Recommend

  • Necromancer

    and that is exactly Muslims fear from Hindus and I think it should stop both the countries on big or small levels have made mistakes but that does not mean that we have a shared culture for past 5000 years. Bin Laden had nothing to do with you please he never harmed India or Indian Citizen.Recommend

  • hammurabi

    I agree with the writer.things were different at time of partition.Now love and harmony can be good for millions of people of both the countries.Get rid of hate mongers on both side.Recommend

  • Avik

    Because he has a fondness for car-bombs?Recommend

  • Akhal

    “I won’t tolerate any culture which has its origin outside the country.”

    ▬ What the hell does this even mean?Recommend

  • Akhal

    You noticed a guy called “Guest” doing such things? Are you sure they are all the same person, LOL!Recommend